Over 100 outsourced workers have announced plans to strike on 25-26 April at the University of London (UoL) as part of the “Back In-House” Campaign. These strikes, set to be the largest for outsourced workers in the history of UK higher education, seek to demand an end to outsourcing and zero-hours contracts, as well an implementation of pay rises promised six years ago.
Industrial Action Voted For
Organised by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), UoL workers (including cleaners, security officers, porters, receptionists, gardeners, and audio-visual staff) voted nearly unanimously in favour of industrial action. Those taking part in the strikes are employed by outsourcing companies (Cordant Security, Cordant Services, and Nurture) which have contracts with UoL central administration; instead, the workers demand to be made direct employees of UoL, with terms and conditions equal to those directly employed.
As it stands, outsourced workers receive inferior holiday pay, sick pay, maternity pay, and paternity pay entitlements as compared to their in-house colleagues, and are more susceptible to illegal wage deduction, bullying, and discrimination. Their pensions are also lower: outsourced workers receive 1% employer pensions contribution, while in-house employees receive 13%.
In a press release, IWGB president Henry Chango-Lopez said, “the University of London has revealed the absolute contempt that it has for the workers that keep it running day after day by ignoring their repeated calls to be brought in-house. We will not stop until all workers are made direct employees with equal terms and conditions as in-house staff.”
Previous campaigns and strikes
This is certainly not the first strike action to occur at LSE against outsourcing. This past academic year, LSE has seen a successful student campaign to bring cleaners from outsourcing company Noonan in-house – albeit, with criticism from some cleaners over the transfer. This followed a 10-month campaign and a week-long strike over poor employment conditions, for which student group “Justice for LSE Cleaners” organised staff and students to also strike in solidarity. More recently, the group sought to address incidents of homophobic bullying in their “Justice for Daniel” campaign, and called on LSE to publicly recognise their role in “the perpetration of institutionalised homophobia and racism.” SOAS and King’s College also have similar ‘Justice for Cleaners’ groups.
This past year has also seen demonstrations against UoL’s outsourcing at Senate House in January and November, as well as in Cordant’s security officers marching for higher pay last year.
These strikes also come during a time of widespread industrial action within academia, with the announcement coinciding with the 13th day of UCU strike action over pension across 60 UK universities. A second series of UCU strikes is expected for a period between April and June. Concurrently in the US, the IWGB strikes will follow action by thousands of teachers across West Virginia striking over pay and healthcare, to speculation that this will spark similar protests across the country in a “labour movement.”
The strikes have been backed by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP and Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley, as well as various trade and student union branches.
The IWGB is the largest union at the UoL central administration buildings – including Senate House, at which the Birbeck graduation will be coinciding with the strikes. A decision over bringing some or all contracts in-house is set to be taken at a meeting scheduled for May.